After bumbling their way through one of the clumsiest and ugliest processes in recent memory, the Vancouver Canucks finally made their head coaching change. As expected, the Canucks officially fired Bruce Boudreau and named Rick Tocchet as their next head coach on Sunday.
In an alternate universe where this was handled with respect and nuance, the deck would still be stacked against Tocchet and the Canucks. By blundering their way through this Boudreau boondoggle, they made things even tougher by burning a ton of goodwill.
Canucks making a curious bet with Rick Tocchet
Beyond the mess, it’s fair to wonder if Tocchet is an actual upgrade over Boudreau. That’s especially true if you agree with the Bill Parcells adage: “You are what your record says you are.”
Over six seasons (four with the Coyotes, two with the Lightning), Tocchet assembled a mediocre 178-200-60 record as an NHL head coach. His lone playoff appearance happened during the COVID bubble playoffs of 2019-20.
Clearly, the biggest selling point is Tocchet’s experience as a Pittsburgh Penguins assistant. During the Penguins’ most recent Stanley Cup runs, Tocchet rubbed elbows with current Canucks president Jim Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin.
Will that chummy familiarity pay off? Is Tocchet a good coach who merely got stuck with shabby rosters? Time will tell if the Canucks’ gambles will pay off, but confidence isn’t exactly at an all-time high.
What Tocchet is up against as Canucks head coach
When considering this coaching change, there’s a nagging question: what are the Canucks actually trying to accomplish by making this swap right now?
Unless the Canucks hired Lloyd Christmas, it’s hard to believe they think there’s a chance they make the playoffs. Right now, projections place their playoff odds at one percent or lower. At this point, plenty of Canucks fans are watching 2023 NHL Draft Lottery odds instead of this season’s standings.
Strangely, strong work from Tocchet could be self-defeating, too. The hole is already deep enough for the Canucks that this coaching change might place them in hockey’s version of purgatory: too good to land a great draft pick, but too bad to make the playoffs.
Really, the timing of the Boudreau-Tocchet coaching change could easily make a bad situation worse. If the Canucks hired Rick Tocchet after the season ended, would he have been in such an awkward position on TV?
Rick Tocchet on the Canucks coaching job pic.twitter.com/P8NBkLWNLL
— Mike Martignago (@MikeMartignago) January 19, 2023
Could Tocchet be an upgrade over Boudreau? It’s certainly possible, yet it’s quite likely the Canucks’ problems are simply too deep for even the best motivator or the shrewdest tactician.
Bungling Boudreau firing burns a lot of goodwill for Canucks
Remarkably, you can trace the Canucks’ mix of callousness and incoherence back to brighter days when Boudreau was head coach. Boudreau breathed new life into the Canucks as an in-season replacement in 2021-22, yet the organization was noticeably “cautious” about bringing him back.
In November, Rutherford blasted Boudreau for the team’s perceived “loose structure.” Yet things went from uncomfortable to downright untenable around the time Rutherford sent strange mixed messages during a perplexing Monday press conference.
As the week went on, Boudreau acknowledged the elephant in the room, to the point that things became emotional.
— Tim and Friends (@timandfriends) January 20, 2023
Treating a beloved figure this way already riled people up on social media. That spilled over in very public ways, too, with fans shouting their support during Boudreau’s final games:
Bruce Boudreau leaves the ice to a "Bruce there it is!" chant. 💙 pic.twitter.com/RF8OjR2Ngd
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 22, 2023
Hockey is, of course, a business. That said, it’s one thing to be bottom-line-oriented when you’re making wise decisions. Put the shoe on the other foot, though. Would Canucks management accept the same level of brutal scrutiny of their own work? Consider the many mistakes Rutherford, Allvin, and others have made:
Rutherford admitted he misdiagnosed the team’s salary cap situation, opting for “minor surgery” before realizing the issues are major. Then he sent mixed messages about retooling, rebuilding, and generally finding a direction. Beyond the incoherence of the Boudreau-Tocchet situation, this is a team radiating signs of an identity crisis.
Yes, some of the biggest problems extend back before Rutherford and Allvin took over, but there are already worrisome moves. People are upset about J.T. Miller’s contract before his extension has even officially kicked in.
Ugly stories rose all the way to the ownership level with the Canucks. Yet, there were also puzzling decisions that flew under the radar. “Old boys club” or not, hiring Dale Tallon sends mixed messages, considering his mammoth salary cap mistakes and how he left the Florida Panthers in disgrace.
It’s bad enough to be a losing franchise, but add on the way the Canucks seem to treat people, and you risk losing any benefit of the doubt. The Canucks organization rarely extended such kindness or patience to Boudreau, so they better hope this Tocchet gamble pays off.
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